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Project Search helps students with learning disabilities prepare for life after graduation

Project Search intern Austin Mays files documents at Blue Cross Blue Shield. (Image: WTVC)

Teaching students for life after the classroom - that's the unique goal a local company is dedicated to achieving.

The Hamilton County Department of Education is working with Blue Cross Blue Shield to facilitate Project Search.

Project Search is a first-of-its-kind internship program in Chattanooga for students with intellectual disabilities.

The program is teaching students life skills like being on time, positive work ethic and maintaining eye contact.

Interns are also honing office skills like filing paperwork, making copies and sorting mail.

Martin Boatwright says he's finishing up his last year at Soddy-Daisy High, and he's ready for the real world.

He's one of eight interns in the system's new Project Search program.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, people with learning and intellectual disabilities who complete high school are more than four times less likely to land a job.

The interns are gaining the self-confidence they need to take on any new challenge, regardless of the obstacles.

"I think it's helped us to believe in ourselves, and not let anything that people say in the real world to affect us," says Martin.

After he leaves Cameron Hill, Martin says he'll be one step closer to reaching his goal of owning his own car dealership.

"Watching all the customers walk through the door all happy. That's the one emotion that I like to show out of people."

Students will stay in the Search Program until they graduate next Spring. They'll use the skills they've learned to apply for jobs next year.

Blue Cross is the first employer in Hamilton County to offer these internships, but the district says they're hoping to open the option up to more students and employers in the future.

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